Red Elderberry: Wildflower Wednesday

I‘ve lived here over five years now, but just when I think I’ve seen all the plants that grow wild here, another one catches my attention and arouses my curiosity.

red elderberry flowers

Earlier this month, I saw this flower out of the corner of my eye, and walked over to identify it.

red elderberry leaves

The compound leaves had five toothed leaflets.

Several people suggested it was baneberry, and baneberry does bloom around the same time, with a similarly shaped flower. Only one problem.

red elderberry woody stem

Baneberry is herbaceous, and the flowers were blooming on a woody plant.

Hmm, what could it be? The leaves kind of looked like elderberry to me, but the elderberry I’m familiar with, the American black elderberry (Sambucus canadensis),

common elderberry flower

has flat topped flower clusters that look like this, and they bloom in early July, not early May.

It turns out it is an elderberry, Sambucus racemosa, which has red berries, giving it the common name red elderberry. I neglected to smell the flowers, but once source calls them malodorous and another calls them fragrant. The berries of black elderberry are definitely edible when cooked. (Click here for our pie recipe!) However, red elderberries are called flat-out poisonous in some sources and merely unpalatable in others. I don’t plan on sampling them, although many birds and small mammals eat them without harm.

So if you need a native shrub that blooms in early spring, around the same time as the trilliums, consider red elderberry–or one of its much flashier cultivars, such as Lemony Lace® Elderberry. I’m happy to have made its acquaintance, and I’ll be on the lookout for those red berries coming later.

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

from Cold Climate Gardening


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